The Chicago Blackhawks may be headed for their first division title in 17 years, but their goaltending has not been up to par lately.
Chicago (43-17-5) is comfortably leading the Central Division as it tries for its first division title since 1992-93. The Blackhawks have won five of seven, but Niemi and Cristobal Huet(notes) have combined to give up 26 goals.
Huet has struggled at times since signing a four-year, $22.5 million contract before the 2008-09 season. He is 4-4-1 with a 3.06 goals-against average in his last 11 games.
Niemi, the backup most of the season, has also struggled of late, going 4-2-0 with a 3.51 GAA in seven contests. He was pulled in his most recent start after allowing three goals on 12 shots in a 5-3 road loss to the New York Islanders last Tuesday.
The goaltending struggles continued in a 5-4 home loss to Detroit on Sunday, as the Blackhawks gave up five goals on 10 shots in the second period. Huet was pulled midway through the period after surrendering the first four.
“It’s important that somebody establishes himself and takes charge,” coach Joel Quenneville told the team’s official Web site. “I think both guys can play.
“We’re not blaming (Huet) for last game. I just think Antti gets a chance to grab the net. We’ve got back-to-back games this weekend and a lot of tough opponents as well as a condensed schedule. They’ll both see some time here and we’re looking for both of them to take charge.”
Andrew Ladd(notes) is providing some unexpected scoring punch for Chicago, netting his first hat trick Sunday. The left wing has four goals in two games to help him match his career high of 15 set last season.
The Blackhawks have won three in a row at home against the Kings (39-22-4) but dropped the most recent matchup, 2-1 in a shootout Nov. 28.
The Kings, fifth in the Western Conference, are looking to carry some momentum from a 6-0 win over Columbus on Monday. They outshot the Blue Jackets 35-11 and went 3 for 6 on the power play to avoid a third straight loss.
Frolov has put together a strong stretch, getting four goals and nine assists in nine games after managing one of each in the prior eight.
He’s been held without a point in four games against Chicago after notching four goals and seven assists in the previous four.